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Turns out that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini really did know one another. They were sort of friends at times. And definitely enemies at other times.
That's the believable part of the new Fox series, "Houdini & Doyle." It's pretty much the only believable part.
Unless, of course, you find it plausible that the two, along with a female police detective (Rebecca Liddiard), would team up in a procedural crime drama with tinges of the supernatural set in 1901.
That's the premise of the series, which airs the first of 10 episodes Monday at 8 p.m. on Ch. 13. Illusionist extraordinaire Houdini (Michael Weston, "House") and Doyle (Stephen Mangan, "Episodes") the creator of Sherlock Holmes work for Scotland Yard on cases that are too tough for the authorities. Cases that tend to involve some spooky stuff.
The two are a mismatched pair, although not in the way you might think. True to life, Houdini is a towering skeptic who is out to prove that everything has a logical explanation and anyone claiming paranormal abilities is a fraud.
Doyle, on the other hand, is a true believer in the mystical.
"What struck me originally … was the irony of it," said co-creator/executive producer David Titcher. "You had Doyle, who created the most skeptical character ever, who is a believer in everything paranormal. And Houdini, who is the most skeptical person alive. And they were friends."
Well, sort of friendly rivals working together.
Yes, it's kind of a crazy idea for a TV show. But that alone doesn't much matter there have been plenty of seemingly stupid ideas that turned into great series.
A show about a girl who kills vampires? A high-school teacher-turned-druglord? A successful lawyer who chases her former beau across the country and sings about it? Dumb-sounding ideas that turned into "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Breaking Bad" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
But for a show featuring Houdini as a lead character, there's surprisingly little magic in "Houdini & Doyle." It plays out like just another procedural crime show of the type we've seen umpteen times before.
Which, oddly enough, seems to have been the intention. Sort of.
"Any good sci-fi, it's either in the future or past or in an alternate universe," said executive producer David Shore. "But it's always dealing with issues that are current. And we stress the fact that the stories we're telling are going to be very relevant today."
In other words it's just a modern crime drama in which the characters wear Victorian clothes .
The period trappings are cool. The show looks great.
But it feels false. And for science fiction to work for drama to work you have to be able to buy into the premise.
That's pretty much impossible with "Houdini & Doyle" a crazy idea that just doesn't work.
Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.